21 Writers on Their Favorite Children’s Books

From an article on lithub.com by Emily Temple headlined “21 Writers on Their Favorite Children’s Books”:

At this point in our collective self-isolation, you may (or may not) have run out of children’s books to read to your kids. Or you may be so stressed out that you want a little comfort reading for yourself. . . .This week, I spent a little time digging around the internet to find out which children’s books inspired 21 living writers. Their choices:

Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of Patsy:

“[My favorite children’s books are] Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Pumpkin Belly and Other Stories by Jamaican author Tanya Batson-Savage. My young nephews love these books so much that they have me read the stories to them every time they stay over.”

Chigozie Obioma, author of An Orchestra of Minorities:

“The books that stick with me [from childhood] include The Palm-Wine Drinkard, by Amos Tutuola; Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare; The Concubine, by Elechi Amadi; Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale, by D. O. Fagunwa; and the beloved Nigerian children’s book The Sugar Girl, by Kola Onadipe, a novel about a poor girl who, through suffering and resilience, becomes very successful in society. It’s a book I wish had a more international appeal.”

Laura van den Berg, author of I Hold a Wolf by the Ears:

“I have become woefully underread on this front, but I seem to remember being moved and also somewhat traumatized by The Velveteen Rabbit as a kid.”

Tomi Adeyemi, author of Children of Blood and Bone:

“I was a voracious reader when I was young. I lived for the summer reading challenges where I could read 50 books and get like three Airheads at the end of August. The authors and books that worked themselves into my heart were Mary Pope Osborne and her Magic Tree House series, J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter, Masashi Kishimoto and Naruto. I consider myself a creative child of fantasy and anime.”

Joyce Carol Oates, author of Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.:

“Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.”

Lily King, author of Writers and Lovers:

“When my mother came home with a freshly published hardcover of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret when I was 7, it was my first encounter with realism, with regular human families and dialogue for pages, and that’s when I got the idea that I didn’t just want to read books, I wanted to write them.”

Crystal Hana Kim, author of If You Leave Me:

Anne of Green Gables. I wanted to dye my hair red and move to PEI. I actually did dye my hair red as a teenager and it was a complete disaster.”

Jesmyn Ward, author of Sing, Unburied, Sing:

“My favorite fictional hero is from my childhood: Aerin, from The Hero and the Crown. I read it when I was 8, and then again and again throughout my childhood and adolescence. The heroine is a woman who has felt unloved and alien her whole life and yet comes of age, confronts her demons and saves the world in the end. As a nerdy 8-year-old bookworm, how could I not love her forever?”

Catherine Lacey, author of Pew:

Nietzsche in Shapes and Colors by by Dr. Hålla Dagdrömma. I found a copy on the street about a year ago and I was so in love with it that I have purchased a copy for almost every baby I know.”

Margaret Atwood, author of The Testaments:

“The first books I can remember were a scribbled-over copy of Mother Goose and several Beatrix Potters, from her dark period (the ones with knives, cannibalistic foxes and stolen babies in them). Then came the complete, unexpurgated Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which my parents ordered by mail, unaware that it would contain so many red-hot shoes, barrels full of nails and mangled bodies. This was in the 1940s, just after the war. It was becoming the fashion, then, to rewrite fairytales, removing anything too bloodthirsty and prettying up the endings, and my parents were worried that all the skeletons and gouged-out eyes in Grimm’s would warp my mind. Perhaps they did, although Bruno Bettelheim has since claimed that this sort of thing was good for me. In any case, I devoured these stories, and a number of them have been with me ever since.”

Téa Obreht, author of Inland:

“I think I’d have to say Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s got grotesques and woodland plotters and marvelous food writing. What’s not to love?”

Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies:

“THEN: The Arabian Nights. I grew up in the dictatorship of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. Here was a brown girl living in a dictatorship, too, who told stories to save her life and those of all the women in the kingdom! Stories had that kind of power.

NOW: A Small Miracle, a wordless picture book by Peter Collington that tells the story of an old woman’s encounter with figures in a crèche. My husband and I ran a literacy center in a village where no one knew how to read. I “read” the book to small groups there, house to house. After we left, we heard that the book was still making the rounds.”

Esmé Weijun Wang, author of The Collected Schizophrenias:

Turn Not Pale, Beloved Snail by Jacqueline Jackson.”

Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf:

Oliver Twist.”

Kamila Shamsie, author of Home Fire:

“Peter Pan, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’s Aslan and all the characters around them taught me to dream and to imagine. There were minor notes of discordance, but they were hardly worth my attention amid the wardrobes that open into a world of eternal winter or the boy whose shadow runs away from him. In the Karachi of my childhood, where we had one state-run television channel and a sheltered life that rarely extended beyond the school yard and private homes, I walked through that wardrobe, and flew to Neverland with the boy and his shadow. And in doing so I learned that novels reach further than their own writers’ imaginations. Who do you write for? I am often asked, the question framed in terms of nation or ethnicity. My own childhood reading makes me impatient of such questions. CS Lewis is unlikely to have “written for” a girl in Karachi, but that doesn’t mean any boy in London grew up with a greater claim on Aslan than I did. It is a great gift to a writer, this early knowledge that there will always be people who don’t know the world you’re writing about, will miss allegories and allusions, and yet will love your books.”

Bryan Washington, author of Memorial:

And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.”

Jhumpa Lahiri, author of The Lowland:

“My husband and I have been reading to our children every night for the past 10 years (our eldest is now 11). We take turns, alternating nights. I love rereading and sharing the books I read and loved as a child, such as the Pippi Longstocking series by Astrid Lindgren and everything by Roald Dahl. And I’ve loved discovering new books with them. Last summer we read a great series together called The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, by Maryrose Wood. These days I also like to read to my children in Italian, which they can now follow. We just read some beautiful fables adapted by Italo Calvino, and another collection of very brief and amusing stories by Gianni Rodari, called Le Favolette di Alice. They’re about a tiny little girl who keeps finding herself temporarily trapped inside of things, like pockets, ink bottles, birthday cakes and soap bubbles.”

Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House:

“THEN: No book could touch Charlotte’s Web. As soon as I got to the end, I started again. We lived in the country and I begged my stepfather to get me a pig for my ninth birthday, which he did, which wound up making me a vegetarian, which I still am.

NOW: You can’t go wrong with any of Mo Willems’s books, but I’m particularly fond of Nanette’s Baguette, the story of a little girl (or a little frog) who cannot resist eating the baguette her mother sends her out to buy.”

Lauren Groff, author of Florida:

“I was a shy child, and vastly preferred books to people, so I devoured absolutely everything with no discernment at all until I was in middle school, which is excellent training to be a novelist. With my own little boys, I reread the work of Jean Craighead George, in particular My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves. Over the decades since I first found the books to be rollicking adventure stories, they’ve become chilling horror stories of lonely children lost and desperate to survive in unforgiving wilderness.”

Stephanie Danler, author of Stray:

“I love all of Jamie Lee Curtis’s books—Is there Really a Human Race? is a classic, and I weep—truly, weep—when I read Tell Me Again About the Night I was Born. And I will forever gift King Baby by Kate Beaton to new parents. The tyranny of King Baby is too accurate.”

Rachel Kushner, author of The Mars Room:

“Supposedly I went into my room with Alice in Wonderland, which was given to me when I was 5, and didn’t come out until I was done. I was an early reader but I don’t think that says much. Having a child and being around them, it’s apparent to me that there’s some kind of clock that goes off at different times for different kids. Mine went off early, and I didn’t like to sleep. So my mother let me stay up as late as I wanted looking at books, and she says I stayed up all night doing that starting at age 3. My best years are way behind me.”

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